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Our industry's guilty secrets ...

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Happy New Year! I hope you are over the festive hangovers and as optimistic as we are for an exciting and abundant 2023.

Recently a friend asked me about the ESG standards in our industry and shamefully, I waffled out a reply about modest attempts to reduce waste, use more antiques, repurpose furniture and materials. It was a realisation that there is still a real lack of responsibility and a general lack of education around the planetary impacts of our work and materials used.

"Can you call yourself creative if to realise your creation requires destruction?"

Elvis and Kresse an innovative fashion brand ask a challenging question, but perhaps this new year this is what we should be asking. And perhaps this is where new creatives might come to the fore...

Just after I was asked the question about ESG standards, I was fortunate to hear the decorator, art historian and ecologist extraordinaire Edward Bulmer in conversation with Philip Mould at the V and A. The event was predominantly to promote Edward's new book 'The Colourful Past', but during his illustrious career forensically restoring some of Britain's finest houses (Althorp, Goodwood, Pitshill), Bulmer has combined his talent for decorating with his conscience and passion for not damaging our planet in doing so.

It was the Duchess of Richmond who originally set Bulmer the challenge to redecorate Goodwood with an appropriate and attractive aesthetic, that was equally fitting with the house's history and suitable for a young family, that was also not at any cost to human or planet health. And ultimately it was from the Goodwood renovation that Edward Bulmer Natural Paints was born, but more on that later.

We know we have a problem : the planetary biosphere can absorb 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita, yet and as humans we produce on average 10 tonnes per capita.

Therefore we should all be making choices and considerations so that we use the least toxic, least polluting and most durable materials and support only morally correct practises free from injustice and exploitation. We should take more time to learn so that we can make more informed choices. When a material is vastly cheaper do we honestly ask ourselves why? Often, if you investigate, it is ugly, but if you are conscious you can at least choose whether to support or condone certain practises.

With paint, unlike food, suppliers do not have to declare every single ingredient. The ingredients are somewhat an industry guilty secret. Often undeclared wet petro-chemicals in form of polymers are found in glues, sealants, paints and varnishes. They make paint more durable, resistant to water, and washable. But as the paint ages, it dries, cracks and flakes, sending minuscule plastic fragments into the environment.

More plastic detritus.

It is estimated that over 180,000 tonnes of microplastics from paint alone ends up in our rivers and oceans every year.

Our environment simply cannot burden the excess emissions or material discharge, so we must take more responsibility.

This is why Bulmer is pioneering plant based paints that are honestly eco-friendly. Using plant-based ingredients that create the same finishes and durability as industry standards yet without the harmful qualities. Which also come in hundreds of tasteful and historically named hues.

Right now I believe it is important to be more aware and thus to act and choose more wisely with the planet in mind. To actively seek alternatives, new technologies and principle ourselves to act more consciously. Paint might be where we start, but there are so many other initiatives such as rainwater harvesting to provide year round water for loo flushing and garden watering, low-flow toilets, taps and showers to minimise mains water consumption, photovoltaic and solar thermal panels to generate electricity and hot water, high efficiency boilers with heat recovery to name but a few.

For inspiration on a bigger scale, the ambitious redevelopment at Cundy Street Quarter is exemplary. Some impressive targets include the use of very high levels of recycled materials that will be sourced from local suppliers wherever possible; a 45% reduction of water consumption through blue roof technology; and a strategy that ensures new buildings produce 94% less carbon than the existing ones.

I hope this is not all sobering. Instead we could think of it as another means to exercise our creativity, as motivation and an opportunity to diversify what we do. I have set some internal targets for my studio that include minimising our carbon output and to make more conscious choices when selecting materials and suppliers.

What are your concerns regarding the planetary impact of interior design and redevelopments? Or perhaps you have another design related question, please do comment or send them in an email. I will try to answer as many as possible in my next post.

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As always, thank you.


*Environmental, Social and Governance

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